Not since Michael Jackson shuffled off this mortal coil has a dead guy generated so much social media buzz.
Case in point: Walter White, aka “Heisenberg,” and he wasn’t even real.
Nevertheless, an obituary for the “Breaking Bad” character portrayed by actor Bryan Cranston, which was placed in the Albuquerque Journal on Friday by local superfan David Layman, triggered a frenzy of activity nationwide.
The Journal library said phone requests to mail out newspapers ran at least 10 times normal volume, and a large portion of those callers had purchased multiple copies. Newspapers had been sent as far away as Manitoba, Canada, and from New York to California.
The Journal’s circulation department reported a 40 percent increase in single copy sales. Many locations were sold out.
The obituary, accompanying story and slide show was the most-read online story at ABQJournal.com since 2006, when the Journal began tracking that data using Google Analytics.
Assistant Managing Editor for Technology Donn Friedman said the traffic was approximately 60 times that of a typical daily top story on ABQjournal.com.
By mid afternoon, the obituary itself or news about it had been posted to a growing list of online websites, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Seattle Times, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, MSN, Yahoo, Variety, TMZ, The Atlantic, E-online, US News and World Report, Christian Post, Perez Hilton and the Daily Mail (United Kingdom).
Friday’s Albuquerque Journal was being hawked on eBay, with nearly 100 sellers asking anywhere from 75 cents to $26.
“I never expected this kind of response,” said Layman, a science teacher at Los Puentes Charter School. “I woke up Friday hearing Bob Clark on KKOB-AM reading the obituary, and the day just got crazier after that.”
Layman said that he and his friends from the Unofficial Breaking Bad Fan Tour Facebook page “wanted to do something to pay tribute to Walter White, and we thought when a loved one dies, you place an obituary in the local newspaper – so that’s what we did.”
Well, not exactly, the boxed death notice appeared on page 4 of the Albuquerque Journal, rather than on the obituary page. Journal editor Kent Walz explained that “it should not be published as part of the regular obituaries, both because it was of a TV character and out of respect for families that had lost loved ones.”
While no one called to complain about the placement of the fictitious obituary, one person did contact the newspaper to say he was less than pleased, Walz said, because “he had avoided knowing what happened to Walter and was going to watch the episode later. He said we ruined it for him.”
For Layton and his friends, who “chipped in” to pay for the obit, Walter White’s death in a hail of gunfire “was not an appropriate way for Albuquerque to leave it,” he said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Walt and ‘Breaking Bad’ for everything they’ve given us, and this gives all of us closure.”